Evelyn Nutt

Ketchikan High School senior Evelyn Nutt is excused from calculus class for a portrait at Kayhi on Tuesday. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

For the first time in five years, a Ketchikan High School student was named the Alaska state representative in the annual Distinguished Young Woman competition.

Kayhi senior Evelyn Nutt competed virtually against six other Alaska students to earn the title of 2021's Distinguished Young Woman of Alaska.

Nutt follows Mia Elias of Anchorage, the 2020 Distinguished Young Woman of Alaska, in the role.

It is the first time a Kayhi student has won the state DYW competition since Cheyanne Mathews' 2016 victory during the 64th annual DYW Alaska program.

Along with her title, Nutt claimed a spot to vie for the national DYW title in June, where she will compete with 49 other young women from across the country.

The national competition is traditionally held in Mobile, Alabama, but this year will take place virtually in June.

The state DYW competition was virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but still offered a variety of scholarships to the participating students who competed in the events.

Nutt earned scholarships totaling $1,600 for winning three of the five competition categories.

Alongside Nutt, two other Kayhi seniors, Remi Cothren and Morgan Elerding, competed in the program. Elerding earned the title of first alternate and won the fitness event, earning scholarships worth $500 and $200, respectively, for the achievements.

Other participating students included Kaylee Lopez of Dillingham, Olivia Randle of Anchorage and Kayli VanDehey of Anchorage, Celeste Whitney of Palmer.

Nutt told the Daily News during a Thursday interview that she initially reluctant to sign up.

"Honestly, I was not expecting to win at all," Nutt said. "When I applied, of course I did my best, but I thought I wasn't necessarily cut for something like DYW. I had been told it was kind of a beauty pageant.

"And so when I talked to (Kayhi junior/senior counselor) Mr. McClory, he said, 'Well, you just need to demonstrate your best self and hope that they pick you,'" Nutt continued. "So that's exactly what I did, and luckily, I did end up winning."

The tournament is separated into five categories — talent, fitness, self-expression, scholastics and interview.

All seven students submitted video segments of themselves participating in those events, which then were turned into a virtual showcase that aired in late January.

The scholastics and interview categories count for 25% of the competitor's scores. Talent makes up 20%, and self-expression and fitness both count for 15% of the overall score.

The scholastics portion of the competition involves a panel of judges looking over the grades, test scores and academic transcripts of the participants.

Nutt said that the judges are looking to see that "not only that you have good grades, but that you're also trying to push yourself in academics, and you're trying to excel."

"I actually won that category because of my high grades, my high test scores and the academic decathlon and debate that I do," she said.

Nutt also clinched a victory in the self-expression category. For this event, participants had 24 hours to verbally answer a question they had been given a day before the competition deadline.

"It has to do with responding to a question right off the bat, and keeping your composure," Nutt added.

"So what I did was I gave my most sincere response to the question, which was 'Over COVID-19, what are your thoughts and reflections?'" Nutt recalled. "And I said, 'Well, I noticed that while I lost a lot of things, I also gained a new realization that I can do my own thing and be on my own journey, while everybody else is on their own journey, as well."

And while she also took a win in the interview portion of the competition, it wasn't what Nutt was expecting.

"They asked me some really tough questions," she said.

Nutt referenced one moment when an interviewer asked her how she felt about Vanessa Hudgens — whom she had listed as a role model — allegedly downplaying the effects of the ongoing pandemic on social media.

"It really just brought out my own thoughts and opinions on very serious matters," Nutt expressed. "And I ended up winning that category, too, even though I thought it was a very serious interview."

The talent and fitness events were the only two events that Nutt did not win — Anchorage's Olivia Randle took that category with an American Sign Language interpretation of the song "I Can Only Imagine" by Mercy Me.

"I did not win the talent section, but it was arguably very comfortable for me," she said.

For the talent portion of the competition, Nutt performed the song "How Beautiful," by Twila Willis, on the flute.

Nutt commented that the fitness section was the hardest for her. In that section, participants had to learn and complete a two-minute long choreographed cardio routine.

"It wasn't hard for me because I'm out of shape or anything, it was difficult because I'm not very comfortable in that regard, which is why I said I wasn't cut for the program."

Morgan Elerding won the fitness category, earning a $200 scholarship.

The entire process of recording and submitting her portions of the virtual showcase took about three months, according to Nutt.

"It was very awkward trying to record the videos, because I don't have any good equipment, and I had to record everything on my Android phone," she said.

Nutt believes that the virtual platform added more pressure to the participants.

"I had to record and re-record (my sections)," Nutt explained. "Because it's so hard to get it right when you're recording it. I think there's even more pressure there then there is when you perform live, or when you are dancing live. And through that process, I think I learned a lot about preparing over time and not putting things together last minute."

Nutt said she walked away from the competition with advice for future participants.

"I think they should know that Distinguished Young Women is not a pageant. It's not about your looks. It's not about how skinny you are, it's not about how much clothing you have at your hands, it's not about how you look," Nutt said. "It's all about who you are and what you can present and all your own capabilities. That's definitely something I realized when I went to the competition and participated in it."